One of the questions entering Saturday’s showdown between No. 1 Kentucky and No. 4 Louisville was whether or not the Cardinals would be able to snap out of the perimeter shooting funk that has been an issue for most of the season. As a team the Cardinals entered Saturday shooting 42.7% from the field and 28.6% from beyond the arc, numbers that won’t get the job done against the nation’s best teams.
That’s exactly how things played out Saturday afternoon, as the Cardinals fell to their in-state rivals by the final score of 58-50 and shot poorly in doing so. Rick Pitino’s team made just 25.9% of its shots from the field, shooting 4-for-21 from three and assisting on just one of their 15 made field goals. And while Kentucky’s play on the defensive end of the floor certainly had a lot to do with those numbers, something also needs to be said of the shot selection of Louisville’s guards.
Chris Jones and Terry Rozier combined to score 28 points but did so shooting 8-for-33 from the field, with Jones responsible for the tandem’s lone assist. Add in Wayne Blackshear’s 2-for-9 afternoon and Louisville’s three perimeter players shot 10-for-42, a level of accuracy that won’t get the job done against many of the nation’s best teams much less one some have already pegged as a realistic candidate to run the table without a single defeat.
Bad shots were seemingly the norm for Louisville on Saturday, and as noted above credit does need to be given to Kentucky for this. The Wildcats have length and athleticism, and in freshman Tyler Ulis they have a 5-foot-9 point guard who can be a flat-out pest defensively.
But there were also multiple occasions in which a Louisville guard settled for a challenged look instead of working the ball around for a higher-quality look, with forward Montrezl Harrell (nine points, eight rebounds) not getting enough opportunities with his man sealed in the post. Harrell attempted nine shots, making four, which isn’t stunning when considering the fact that he entered the game fourth on the team in field goal attempts and averaged 10.5 attempts per game in the ten games he played.
Yet even with that being the case, and Kentucky’s interior length serving as a deterrent in the post, shouldn’t Harrell get more opportunities in the paint? One sequence that summed things up occurred with 4:15 remaining and the Cardinals trailing 50-38. Jones fired up a contested three-pointer, with Pitino calling timeout after Harrell managed to corral the offensive rebound, and it’s safe to say that the all-america candidate was frustrated in the Louisville huddle.
For Rozier, Saturday’s performance was an exception for him this season as he entered the game shooting nearly 48 percent from the field and 34 percent from three. But with Jones and Blackshear having their issues, especially from three with the former now shooting 29.8% and the latter 28.8%, they can afford to pass up some of those perimeter looks in exchange for shots of higher quality.
Against a team the caliber of Kentucky finding those shots can be difficult, but Louisville has to be more disciplined offensively than they were Saturday. That will determine just how good of a season the Cardinals manage to put together.